The Man She Loved: A Short Story by Felisa Daskeo
The court was packed. In fact, it was crowded, almost full to the brim. The judge was there, seated in his swivel chair, calm but alert, assessing the fully baronged men seated in their quilted chairs. Who would be punished for the crime? Would it be the real culprits? But who knows, the men in the front row were well dressed, after all. They looked like lawyers themselves, with their well pressed suits, and clean shaven, good looking faces. The rest were products of society’s left over- dirt poor and lacking the finer things in life.
Janine shifted from one foot to the other. The strain in her legs was becoming unbearable. Yet she couldn’t leave- leaving would mean giving up her boyfriend. Janine still couldn’t believe that she had fallen for a lawyer. She, who had been a former student activist, who hated lawyers with vehemence. She had cursed them to death, branded them as liars and fought against them endlessly. Up to now, she still loathed going inside a court. Just looking at the building was enough to stir up embers of hatred in her. But there she was, sacrificing her time, waiting for Jerome to come out of the court room.
The reporters were gathered in front, cameras set and pens tightly clasped in their grasp. Janine was a distance away but she could see their hungry faces eager for a new scoop. They stood there not talking to each other, eyes glued to the entrance of the court house.
Janine had refused to enter the courtroom. She didn’t want any part of the drama. But Jerome had begged her to wait for him outside the building. She was his inspiration, he told her, and just thinking she was out there would give him enough strength to win the case. Jerome was not brilliant nor was he an expert in litigations rather; he was an amateur and an ordinary lawyer. In fact, everyone thought he was lucky to have passed the bar exams. The only person who had trust in him was Janine who had become his guiding star.
For Janine, her activist days were past. She had done her part in fighting for the oppressed. Her future now lay ahead. It was Jerome who made the difference. He was different from the others. He was not like those who only thought of winning their case and not promoting justice.
The crowd rushed to the entrance like lions awaiting their prey. Janine saw the men in barong being pushed through the reporters; their bodyguards were alert for any untoward incident. Then came the guys in rugged clothes – men with their heads bowed, followed by a young woman whose head was covered with a big handkerchief. Her family tried to protect her from the massive crowd and vainly cover her from the whirring cameras. No one agreed to talk to the reporters, all of them rushing to their designated cars. And then they were all gone and Janine was left straining into the blankness that brought her hurtling back to her traumatic past.
She was in a court room seated in front of strangers. The defense counsel was banging his fist in front of her, draining all of her strength. She was the wronged one yet in the end the man who had raped her just walked out the door scot free, while she was chastised by the people around her and accused her of fabricating stories. All because her lawyer had sold his case even before it was over.
Nobody listened to Janine’s please. Only God knew the truth.
“Janine!” The call seemed so far away.
Another call alerted her to her senses.
“Janine?” Jerome was right in front of her. He frowned and dropped his attaché case.
“Are you alright?” He held her shoulders.
Janine smiled sadly. “Yeah, I guess so. Can we leave this place?”
“I-I’m so sorry. I understand.” Jerome took her hand and they walked to the car.
He frowned at her.
Janine shifted on her chair to adjust the seatbelt. “I mean, the girl.”
“Oh, she’s doing well. Her psychiatrist is with her. She’s taking care of her.”
“Oh, God. Thanks.”
Jerome saw the tears in her eyes. “Don’t worry, sweetheart. I’m sure we’ll win the case.”
“How sure are you?”
“I’ve a feeling we can do it. The girl is very good. We won’t lose. The evidences are airtight.”
“B-but you know how it is in court. The haves always win. It’s not a matter of who really did it but how much you have.”
He shook his head. “It won’t happen to us. Trust me. Just pray for the girl’s sake, won’t you?”
He invited her to his place. It was her first time actually to go there after a multitude of invitations. Jerome lived alone in his apartment with an elderly helper. Janine thought it wasn’t right for her to be going there while they were not married yet. But she needed some private moments with him and agreed.
The house was just right for a bachelor, neat and comfortable with two bedrooms upstairs, very well kept by the maid. Janine sat down and scanned the place. Jerome’s diplomas and pictures were neatly displayed on the walls. They looked so proud and beautiful that Janine found herself smiling happily at them. She got up and walked to the divider where two very small frames were displayed. One was that of a woman and the other was…
“Oh, my God!” Janine grabbed the frame and held it closer. She couldn’t be mistaken. It was him. The mole in the left cheek, the cleft chin and his eyes.
“Is something wrong, sweetheart?” Jerome moved to her.
Janine’s eyes were like daggers, tears starting to well up in them.
“Why didn’t you tell me about your parents?”
He didn’t understand what she meant. Yet the look in her eyes spelled out something very serious.
“W-what is it…?” Jerome’s words were lost in her shouts.
“No! Nooo! Damn you Jerome! I hate you!” She threw the frame and raced to the door.
Jerome’s mind couldn’t quite comprehend what had happened but Janine’s reaction shocked him to the core. He tried calling her house but it was her mother who answered. Janine refused to talk to him.
Like a jigsaw puzzle, Jerome tried to piece the events in his mind. He picked up the shattered frame and freed the photo from the broken pieces of glass. The picture stared back to him. For a moment, a cold chill crept into his body and his right hand holding his father’s photo trembled.
“Oh, my God,” he burst out. His own father, could it be him? It had never entered his mind. But it seemed the only answer to Janine’s earlier outburst.
Jerome was cold with sweat when he finally found the files of his father’s cases. He almost collapsed when he found what he was looking for. He sat weakly on the chair and stared at the window for a long time. When he came to his senses, all he could do was hit the table over and over until his fist became swollen.
The only way Jerome could send word to Janine was through her mother. He wrote a letter and handed it to Janine’s mother.
Janine held up the pink envelope. “Is it for me, mother?” She said peering at the unaddressed envelope.
Her mother nodded to her and cleared her throat. “Janine, please open it and read it in your room. I’m your mother. I know what’s best for you. Will you promise me that you’re going to read it?”
Janine stood gaping at her mother. “What do you mean? Who sent it?”
“Don’t ask me. Just go.” She pushed her lightly.
Janine hurried to her room, locked it and fumbled for the sealed envelope. Tears blurred her eyes as she read the letter from Jerome.
Edward Salud was Jerome’s real father. He was very rich but he was a womanizer. His wealth quickly disappeared because of several cases of adultery and rape. Jerome’s mother died early because of that. At age four, Jerome was abandoned by his own father for another woman and was left under the care of his aunt. When Edward didn’t show up, Jerome was adopted by his aunt. His family name was then changed to Salvador.
“He’s really a monster.” Janine said to herself, wanting to talk to Jerome but putting it off because she felt it wasn’t the right time yet.
It was the hardest part of Jerome’s life but he willingly gave Janine all the time to think and he went on with his activities.
Once again, it was back to court life for Jerome. This was the last hearing of a very important case. The case of a thirteen year old girl who was raped by a millionaire’s son and two of his buddies. Two homeless teenagers had been picked up as pawns to the case and Jerome was the star lawyer.
Janine picked up the early morning papers and stared at the headlines. Jerome’s picture with the girl was there. She threw the paper away and rushed to her room. She has to get ready to go out.
In a small chapel near the Supreme Court as the hearing was going on, Janine knelt in front of Virgin Mary, tears running down her cheeks as she held her Rosary beads.
Hours passed and Janine’s knees felt sore. Her eyes were puffy from crying. Then she heard a commotion. She rushed out of the chapel to the building and there, she saw the victim crying and raising her hands to show victory. At her side was Jerome smiling triumphantly. Janine cried as she watched the crowd slowly dispersed and then she saw Jerome running towards her, hugging her tightly.
“It’s over now, Janine. That poor girl can live peacefully now. And the two boys will be adopted by a foundation so they can be sent to school.”
“What’s the punishment?”
“Death. Lethal injection.”
Janine looked down.
“Hey, I know what you’re thinking. I’m a lawyer. It’s my job to give justice. They had committed a crime and they deserve to be punished.”
He hugged her. “Janine, I’m so sorry, sweetheart. I didn’t know. We’re victims of a cruel past. Can you forgive me?”
She looked up to him. “That’s why I’m here. I’m sorry, too, sweetheart.”
“Could I ask you something?”
“Ahh, I want to reopen your case. I won’t let him get away with what he did to you.”
She was silent.
“Hey, look here, sweetheart. They have stepped on you before but I won’t let them this time.”
“And if…” she paused to look up to him. “He’s convicted? Then what? Could you allow your own father to be executed?”
“There is a law Janine. A person who commits a crime must be punished accordingly. That’s what the law is for.”
Janine shook her head. “No, Jerome. It’s over now. That’s past. Why dig it up again? I have gotten over it now and I have you back. I’m very happy. Please Jerome, let’s just live peacefully and leave the past behind.”
He kissed the top of her head and squeezed her tightly. Janine looked up at the white building and smiled. All the hatred in her, the anger and hard-feelings bottled in there for a long time was totally swept away. Her past wasn’t important now. Jerome was there and the future just waiting to be trudged, she would brave tomorrow with Jerome at her side.
© 2018 Felisa Daskeo